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Abscesses in Rabbits

By: Dr. Branson Ritchie

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Diagnosis In-depth

Your veterinarian may use radiographs (X-rays) or changes in the types of blood cells (CBC) or enzymes found in the blood (blood chemistry) to evaluate the overall health status of a sick animal.

  • Radiographs. The most common radiographic change associated with an abscess is a soft tissue mass in the affected tissue. Radiographs may be used to determine if the abscess is associated with an underlying bone (requires more aggressive and longer therapy), joint or internal organ or if the abscess is undergoing calcification. Radiographs may be helpful for determining if a foreign body is the cause of an abscess. Cysts, tumors, hematomas, fibrous scars and granulomas can appear radiographically similar to an abscess. Ultrasound may be used to determine if a mass is fluid-filled or solid and to determine if a foreign body is present in the mass.

  • If the abscess is completely walled-off by the immune response, then there may be no changes in the white blood cell count. If the abscess has recently formed or is leaking infectious agents to the general circulation, then there may be a substantial increase in the number of white blood cells (neutrophilia) with or without toxic changes in these cells. In rabbits that are septic, the white blood cell may be decreased (neutropenia), with a high proportion of immature cells and/or toxic changes. This finding is associated with a poorer prognosis.

  • Confirming the cause of an abscess is best achieved by combining tests that demonstrate the morphologic (how it looks), characteristics of an organism (cytology or biopsy), with culture and antimicrobial sensitivity. Culture is usually necessary to specifically identify the type of bacteria or fungus present in the organism, but cultures from abscesses are frequently negative. Cytology is important in helping to identify the presence of organisms that may be difficult to grow in the laboratory. Cytology and culture of fluid collected from the spinal canal (CSF tap) may be used in patients with suspected infections in the brain or nervous system.

    Therapy In-depth

  • Complete surgical excision of an abscess is best if all of the affected tissue can be removed without causing problems in the rabbit. If excision is not possible, then as much affected tissue as possible will be surgically removed and the wound will be left open to facilitate flushing and healing from the inside to the outside. Depending on the location of the abscess, your veterinarian may or may not place a piece of tubing called a drain in your rabbit.

  • Both local or topical and systemic (given by mouth or given by a shot), antimicrobial agents will probably be prescribed for your rabbit. Depending on ease of administration your veterinarian may suggest an injectable or oral antimicrobial agent. Long-term antimicrobial therapy may be necessary, particularly with fungal infections or when bone is involved.

  • Local abscesses will probably be treated on an outpatient basis. Rabbits with septicemia or with abscesses involving internal organs will probably be hospitalized for the initial treatment period.

  • Spaying will probably be recommended in a female with an abscess of the uterus. Castration will be recommended if a testicle is abscessed. Abscessed teeth will be removed.

  • Other therapies that may be needed include fluids to correct dehydration and supportive nutrition, if the rabbit has not eaten for several days or has lost considerable weight.

  • Treatment is considered successful when a rabbit is removed from antibiotics and remains clinically normal.

    Follow-up Care

    Optimal treatment for your companion rabbit requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Follow-up can be critical, especially if your rabbit does not rapidly improve.

  • Make certain you administer all prescribed medications at the appropriate times. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you have difficulty treating your rabbit as prescribed. If you are having problems, it may be best to hospitalized him to assure that a proper course of treatment is administered.

  • Rabbits that are being treated for abscesses should be isolated from other animals to prevent transmission of infectious agents.

  • For skin abscesses, make certain that the abscess stays open so it will heal from the inside to the outside. If a surgically opened abscess closes over, contact your veterinarian immediately.

  • Clinical changes associated with an abscess should begin to improve within 24 to 48 hours after the abscess has been surgically opened, and antimicrobial therapy has been initiated. If your rabbit does not respond within this time period, you should contact your veterinarian. As the abscess heals, it should begin to decrease in size, drainage should decrease, inflammation should decrease, and the rabbit's general condition should improve.

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